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Linus Torvalds Dodges Question About Requests for NSA Backdoor in Linux

Kernel panic
Photo by Kevin



Summary: Humour used to avoid answering a serious question about whether the NSA asked for a Linux backdoor

LINUX is the most widely used operating system kernel and its annual event which we wrote about earlier today, both positively and critically, had one interesting nugget of information [1]. Torvalds responded with a joke and an ambiguity to a serious question about an important matter. Torvalds and his Linux Foundation colleagues who sign off kernels on an almost weekly basis [2] owe a more serious response to people who put Linux in governments and large enterprises (most of them outside the United States). Humour has its place, but when millions of people die due to imperialism that relies on global surveillance, then some seriousness is required. Having read some dubious text about the NSA's SELinux and some real attempts to plant back doors in all sorts of operating systems and even a CMS like WordPress (some attempts were successful and catastrophic), I think that we deserve a serious, unambiguous answer.



"Torvalds responded with a joke and an ambiguity to a serious question about an important matter."As a token or a relevant reminder of what the NSA does and how it does it I am appending some of the latest news bits about the NSA and about privacy in general. It turns out that complicity from developers and corporations -- not necessarily hacking or cracking -- is what enables to NSA to access almost every bit of information around the world, even financial transactions outside the United States. Wikileaks (i.e. journalism with an edge) was almost silenced using illegal financial embargoes that got overturned only years later (after a court battle). Worth noting, as iophk put it, is the war on journalism which we saw here in the UK last month (David Miranda). It is a classic "war on journalism," he explained, noting that "Slashdot is now part of that by providing a platform for those that want to require reporters to rat on sources. The part about the 5th amendment is just a distraction from steamrolling over protection of confidentiality of sources in journalism."

"Note the strawman about raping," he said.

Related/contextual items from the news:



  1. Linus Torvalds Talks Linux Development at LinuxCon
    Torvalds responds to a question about whether the U.S. government asked him to put a backdoor in Linux, and explains why he's a developer and how others can be.

    [...]

    Torvalds responded "no" while nodding his head "yes," as the audience broke into spontaneous laughter.



  2. Linux Kernel 3.10.12 Is Now Available for Download
    Greg Kroah-Hartman also announced today, September 14, that the twelfth maintenance release for the 3.10 LTS branch of the Linux kernel is now available for download.


  3. 'Follow the Money': NSA Spies on International Payments
    The United States' NSA intelligence agency is interested in international payments processed by companies including Visa, SPIEGEL has learned. It has even set up its own financial database to track money flows through a "tailored access operations" division.


  4. NSA ‘Follow the Money’ branch spied on Visa customers, SWIFT transactions – report
    The NSA has been widely monitoring international banking and credit card transactions, a new report says referencing Edward Snowden’s leak. The agency targeted Visa customers and global financial service SWIFT and created its own money flows database.


  5. Obama administration had restrictions on NSA reversed in 2011
    The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases, according to interviews with government officials and recently declassified material.


  6. Meet the fetish model who became an internet privacy activist
    It accidentally published the real name of one of its young models, who had been working as Ancilla Tilia. Her mother, who shared her real surname, started getting some uncomfortable calls.


  7. Swedish spies 'breaking surveillance laws'
    The Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) has repeatedly broken the laws and pushed legal boundaries in its surveillance operations, according to revelations by the Swedish media on Monday.


  8. The TSA Is Legally Allowed to Lie to Us


  9. NSA has 'commandeered' the internet, says Bruce Schneier


  10. The Border Is a Back Door for U.S. Device Searches
    Newly released documents reveal how the government uses border crossings to seize and examine travelers’ electronic devices instead of obtaining a search warrant to gain access to the data.


  11. UK Internet Filter Blocks VPNs, Australia to Follow Soon?
    In the UK mobile Internet providers are required to block content that may be considered “harmful” to children. The filter mainly targets adult oriented content, but one provider now says that VPN services also fall into this category as they allow kids to bypass age restrictions. Down Under a similar filtering proposal is making headlines today, but after a policy backflip it appears that Australia may escape a mandatory Internet filter for now.


  12. EFF victory will reveal NSA surveillance documents
    INTERNET RIGHTS GROUP the Electronic Frontier Foundation has won a legal victory that will force the release of hundreds of NSA surveillance related documents that date back at least nine years.


  13. NSA can reportedly tap smartphone users' data
    Intelligence-gathering agency has created working groups to access contacts lists, SMS, and user location on the three most popular mobile platforms, according to classified documents viewed by Spiegel.


  14. The NSA Is Breaking Most Encryption on the Internet
    The new Snowden revelations are explosive. Basically, the NSA is able to decrypt most of the Internet. They're doing it primarily by cheating, not by mathematics.


  15. Compliance vs. Complicity


  16. Canada Facilitated NSA's Effort To Weaken Encryption Standards


  17. What NSA's influence on NIST standards means for feds
    Top-secret documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden confirm that the NSA introduced weaknesses into computer security standards adopted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, putting at risk NIST's reputation as a disinterested purveyor of cyber guidelines.


  18. Oh, what big eyes you have!
    I’ve heard a rumour that that nice man Mr Blair is similarly in love. Apparently, he thinks that my fingers are so pretty that he just has to have little pictures of all ten fingertips. I’d better get my nails done so that they look good – I wouldn’t want to let him down.


  19. The NSA's Next Move: Silencing University Professors?
    A Johns Hopkins computer science professor blogs on the NSA and is asked to take it down. I fear for academic freedom.


  20. NSA’s Decade-Long Plan to Undermine Encryption Includes Backdoors, Stolen Keys, Manipulating Standards
    It was only a matter of time before we learned that the NSA has managed to thwart much of the encryption that protects telephone and online communication, but new revelations show the extent to which the agency, and Britain’s GCHQ, have gone to systematically undermine encryption.

    Without the ability to actually crack the strongest algorithms that protect data, the intelligence agencies have systematically worked to thwart or bypass encryption using a variety of underhanded methods, according to revelations published by the New York Times and Guardian newspapers and the journalism non-profit ProPublica, based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.


  21. GCHQ and NSA have 'cracked privacy encryption'


  22. NSA and GCHQ unlock privacy and security on the internet
    $250m-a-year US program works covertly with tech companies to insert weaknesses into products


  23. Girl Guides: 'Girls accept controlling relationships as 'normal' in digital era'
    “It is this culture of surveillance and monitoring that is seeping into their lives offline – and making girls feel that it is perfectly acceptable for boys to demand to know their location and what they are doing at all times.”


  24. Tor usage up by more than 100% in August


  25. How to handle millions of new Tor clients
    Starting around August 20, we started to see a sudden spike in the number of Tor clients. By now it's unmistakable: there are millions of new Tor clients and the numbers continue to rise...


  26. Don’t run a Tor router and a hidden service from the same connection!Don’t run a Tor router and a hidden service from the same connection!
    Today’s post covers Tor hidden services and their anonymity. In the first few paragraphs I will provide some basic, high level information on the Tor network and then talk about a way to uncover the real location of some anonymous hidden services.


  27. Why the NSA loves Google’s Chromebook
    PRISM and other recent revelations put a touch of gray in Chrome's silver lining.


  28. Amazon hiring 'top secret' IT staff as it fights for CIA work


  29. AT&T helping US drug cops in 'vast, troubling' phone snoop scheme
    The US Drug Enforcement Administration has enlisted telecom giant AT&T to develop a massive telephone records database that may put the National Security Agency's domestic phone surveillance to shame.


  30. New Snowden leak reports 'groundbreaking' NSA crypto-cracking
    The latest published leak from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden lays bare classified details of the US government's $52.6 billion (€£33.9 billion) intelligence budget, and makes the first reference in any of the Snowden documents to a "groundbreaking" US encryption-breaking effort targeted squarely at internet traffic.


  31. Facebook comes clean on facial recognition and adverts
    PRIVACY HATER Facebook has released its latest raft of changes to its terms and conditions, including a small update to the way the firm makes use of its facial recognition technologies to increase the accuracy of photo-tagging.


  32. Facebook strips away a bit more of your privacy – but won't say why
    Facebook is slurping mobile phone numbers from its users without explaining why, it has emerged.


  33. The NSA pays millions for U.S. telecom access
    The Washington Post reports that the NSA paid $278 million this fiscal year to tap into phone lines, e-mail and instant messages


  34. FBI Admits It Controlled Tor Servers Behind Mass Malware Attack


  35. The Troodos Conundrum
    The GCHQ listening post on Mount Troodos in Cyprus is arguably the most valued asset which the UK contributes to UK/US intelligence cooperation. The communications intercept agencies, GCHQ in the UK and NSA in the US, share all their intelligence reports (as do the CIA and MI6). Troodos is valued enormously by the NSA. It monitors all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East, ranging from Egypt and Eastern Libya right through to the Caucasus. Even almost all landline telephone communication in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage, picked up on Troodos.


  36. OHM 2013 — The Great Spook Panel
    Finally the videos from the whis€­tleblower track at the August inter€­na€­tional geek€­fest OHM 2013 in the Neth€­er€­lands are begin€­ning to emerge. Here’s one of the key ses€­sions, the Great Spook Panel, with ex-CIA Ray McGov€­ern, ex-FBI Coleen Row€­ley, ex-NSA Tom Drake, ex-Department of Justice Jes€­selyn Radack, and myself.
  37. Obama reassures Europeans over US surveillance
    President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to reassure Europeans outraged over U.S. surveillance programs that his government isn't sifting through their emails or eavesdropping on their telephone calls. He acknowledged that the programs haven't always worked as intended, saying "we had to tighten them up."
  38. NSA surveillance: A guide to staying secure
    The NSA has huge capabilities – and if it wants in to your computer, it's in. With that in mind, here are five ways to stay safe


  39. The security services are stripping us of basic Internet security
    The latest revelations from the Guardian give good evidence of why they have recently been the target of government harassment, and also why this is entirely unjustified.
  40. Google knows nearly every Wi-Fi password in the world
    If an Android device (phone or tablet) has ever logged on to a particular Wi-Fi network, then Google probably knows the Wi-Fi password. Considering how many Android devices there are, it is likely that Google can access most Wi-Fi passwords worldwide.


  41. ORG joins call on Council of Europe to support resolution against mass eavesdropping
    The Resolution calls on member states to regulate and effectively oversee the secret services and special procedures and to pass legislative provisions at the national level to protect whistleblowers. The resolution also calls upon the Secretary General to launch an inquiry under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


  42. Cyberspying: Government may ban Gmail for official communication


  43. Tor: Part 3 - Becoming An Onion
    In the previous article we set up Tor and was able to successfully use it to browse the web securely. Now we’ll take it a step further and become part of the Tor browsing network. As being an exit node holds a bit more power we’ll take it a step back and be a relay node. This means that traffic will flow in and out of our network, but no one can see it coming from us or somewhere else. Tor also states that this can provide better anonymity than just running it as a client.

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